Project Leader / Primary Investigator

Brian Nolan

The Oxford Martin Programme on Inequality and Prosperity was established in 2016 as part of the Oxford Martin School’s research partnership with Citi and formed a central element of the Employment, Equity and Growth research programme to 2021. The research team of Professor Brian Nolan, Tim Goedemé, Helen Kowalewska, Matteo Richiardi, Luis Valenzuela Rivera and David Weisstanner investigated the drivers of economic inequality, the ways in which inequality impacts on prosperity and opportunity, the relationship between increasing income inequality and the concentration of wealth, the interactions between inequality and political attitudes and behaviours, and policy responses including via the tax and transfer systems and family policy.

Research on the drivers of economic inequality in rich countries brings out how varied trends in income inequality actually were across countries and over different time-periods, in contrast to a common narrative of inexorably rising inequality from the 1980s. The factors underpinning this variation are complex and inter-related, but the way in which social protection and taxation systems responded to rising inequality in ‘pre-distribution’ incomes was key – as were the ways in which labour force participation by different household members and the dispersion in earnings among individuals evolved. The extent to which ‘the middle’ was ‘squeezed’, failing to see improvement in living standards and/or secure its share of growth, also has to be nuanced. The increasing role of income from capital and the concentration of wealth are also central, and the role of inheritance with respect to wealth concentration – which is generally reduces – versus inequality of opportunity – which it generally increases – were also highlighted.

The research assessed how best to strengthen the effectiveness of social transfers for working-age households together with labour market institutions including minimum wages. The insignificant wealth buffers of most low-income households across the rich countries was a striking and problematic phenomenon and what it would take to address this was considered. The role of family policy in underpinning increased female labour force participation received particular attention. Trends in poverty affecting families and children through and after the Great Recession were compared across a set of rich countries in collaboration with UNICEF and lessons for the policies required to support such families brought out. These had direct relevance in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which was itself the subject of various analyses including which sets of earners and households were most affected and had or lacked financial resources to fall back on. The programme also studied how inequality affects individuals’ social status and trust along with political preferences and behaviour.

Research Themes

Research Programmes